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What Beauty Can Learn From Booze

From the way spirits are marketed to the success of celebrity-founded lines, alcohol offers a roadmap for standing out in a crowded market.
A view of Aviation American Gin.
A view of Aviation American Gin. (Getty Images)

Beauty and alcohol are more alike than you think. Both move in ultra-crowded spaces where many brands use the same co-manufacturers, distributors and famous faces to move products. With exceptions at the very high end, the difference between one vodka and another is negligible, much like makeup and skin care.

I can attest to this: In January, I switched from an almost $300 moisturiser to a $60 one, and the cheaper one has done wonders for my skin. Recently, I ordered my husband his go-to, a “very slightly dirty” martini, but swapped his usual Grey Goose for a more budget option. He didn’t notice.

Like Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics in beauty, the success of George Clooney’s Casamigos and Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin led to an influx of celebrity alcohol brands. In 2021, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson introduced Teremana, a brand of tequila made in Jalisco, Mexico that’s already valued at $3.5 billion. Last October, Lenny Kravitz launched a liquor, Nocheluna Sotol, a tequila and mezcal adjacent liquor that’s native to Mexico.

Generally, the celebrity approach works better for spirits than beauty because nobody is trying to claim they’ve invented a new, better gin. Customers opt for one celebrity tequila over another because of their connection to the founder and how much they want to buy into their lifestyle. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Some less noteworthy ventures include Drake’s Virginia Black whiskey and Jason Derulo and Blake Shelton’s Smithworks and Bedlam vodkas, respectively.

“When you associate a celebrity with alcohol, the story that they’re telling is not that The Rock was in the agave fields. It’s that the agave makers were trying to find the blend that The Rock liked the most – so he’s actually the consumer of it,” said Noah Friedman, co-founder and managing partner of Top Shelf Ventures, a fund that invests in alcohol brands. “The thing that people associate with The Rock is, ‘He really loves this tequila.’”

Beauty brands lost the public once celebrities decided they had to play CEOs of start-ups when we all know they’re not chemists or formulators and don’t run the companies day to day. In reality, most celebrity beauty founders are barely involved besides approving campaigns or attending events or doing a press day.

In a sea of celebrity beauty brands, just two stand out: Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty. There are no illusions that either of the founders are working with retail partners on deliveries, liaising with third-party logistics companies, or donning a lab coat and blending formulas.

“I’m not buying Selena Gomez’s brand because it’s the ‘cleanest.’ I’m buying it because I relate to her, she’s an authentic persona,” said Andrea Hernández, the founder of Snaxshot, a food and beverage consultancy and newsletter. “She gained weight and she’s honest about it, she talks about her mental health problems, she talks about her disease. That’s human, she humanises it.”

Yet despite most beauty products being interchangeable, celebrity and non-celebrity brands still try to win customers over with marketing and messaging based on quality and their ingredients being superior to others’ ingredients. Industrial design is used far less as a differentiator in beauty; custom or intricate packaging could cost more to make than the cream inside it.

Liquor marketing uses quality as a selling point far less often. An early wave of brands innovated on product and form factor, then the market evolved and matured. The spirits industry had to find another way to differentiate.

Corona used white sand beaches in its advertising to sell beer for decades; Absolut went from struggling spirit to sexy vodka when it launched one of the most iconic advertising campaigns of all time in 1980, using art, pop culture and global cities to riff on its name and bottles.

The beauty industry hasn’t come to this realisation yet. Brands still think that putting a random ingredient people are Googling in their formulas is more valid than simply creating an emotional connection. It’s easier and quicker than ever to create good products; the only way to make a distinction is through brand.

Why shouldn’t the next successful beauty brand be the Teremana or Aviation Gin of makeup?

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